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White Wings Vol II. Founding Of The Provinces And Old-Time Shipping. Passenger Ships From 1840 To 1885

Early Coastal Craft

Early Coastal Craft.

The first vessel to enter the Iron Pot in the year 1857 was a small brigantine under the command of Captain Alex Blair, either the Esther or the Sea Serpent, of both of which he was in charge in the early days. His first appearance at Napier was in 1854. In 1866 he left Wellington for the Chathams, but neither vessel nor crew were ever heard of again. As mentioned before, Napier was declared a port of entry in 1855, and the first vessel to enter and clear was the schooner Salopian, 50 tons. The produce of the district was sheep, pigs, flax, and wool. Among the old shipping records we find mention of the fact that the Salopian in 1857 cleared for Auckland with 150 sheep. Other vessels trading to the port at that time were the Sea Serpent and the Shepherdess, which plied regularly to Wellington. The first steamer to call at Napier was the little Wonga Wonga, Captain Bowden, well-known up and down the coast, which arrived on May 24, 1857, having sailed from Auckland. Shepage 97 used to take 36 hours to do the 203 miles between Napier and Wellington, and the passenger fare for the run was four guineas.

In the course of some interesting reminiscences of old Napier, Mr. W. A. Harding, of Napier, writing about the Iron Pot, says: "The Iron Pot was a natural basin with the Eastern Spit (now Ahuriri) on the north, and Gough and Maori Islands on the south. Shortly after the provincial government was inaugurated it ordered the forming of a causeway connecting the two islands, which had the effect of diverting the bulk of the water of the Tutaekuri River and the inner harbour into the main channel. This main channel flowed to the north of the Iron Pot, which gradually got shallower. The Government then purchased the steam dredge Huntress, which at first appeared to be a success, but later had to cease operations as the sand came round her faster than she could dredge it out. A commission of inquiry was set up and eventually the dredging was discontinued. The Huntress was re-converted into a paddle steamer, and used for some time conveying troops to various parts of the East Coast during the Maori War."

The dredge Huntress was built at Richmond River, New South Wales, in 1853-54. She was bought by the Hawke's Bay Provincial Government for £3000, and came across in 1860 in charge of Captain Ross. She had 50 h.p. engines and came over partly under steam and partly under canvas. Experiencing heavy weather in Cook Strait, and the coal running short, she put into Port Hardy, where the crew went ashore and cut enough firewood to carry her to Wellington. After being detained for nine days, owing to a defect in her boiler, she again set out, but it took her fourteen days to get to Napier, being part of the time under canvas. She arrived in the Iron Pot on May 14, and started dredging on September 19 of the same year.

The Wonga Wonga, whose name appears several times in connection with the early history of Napier, was a well-known vessel on the coast. The late Mr. Robert Mair gave the following particulars about her. "About the year 1853 or 1854 some Auckland merchants purchased the little steamer Wonga Wonga (which is the Australian name for the wood-pigeon) for the Auckland coastal trade. She was a vessel of about 140 tons register. She was intended to work the trade between Auckland and Bay of Islands, Maugonui, Whangarei, and Coromandel. Her commander was Captain Bowden, who had been a popular skipper in the Auckland-Sydney trade, on board the brigs Maukin and Moa. One week the Wonga Wonga would leave Auckland on Monday for Russell, Whangaroa, and Mangonui. After returning to Auckland she would make a trip to Coromandel, which was then a busy place. The following week she would leave Auckland on Monday for Whangarei, return to Auckland and make a trip to Coromandel."